Industry news

The first Mexican truck authorized for U.S. operation by the Bush administration cleared federal inspections Sept. 8 at the U.S. border in Laredo, Texas, bound for North Carolina. After more than two hours of inspections, driver Luis Gonzalez headed north on I-35 in the 2007 Freightliner owned by Transportes Olympic, of the Monterrey suburb of Apodaca. Less than 30 minutes later, he left the 25-mile commercial zone that had been the legal boundary for Mexican trucks since the United States closed its border to its southern neighbor fleets in 1982.

Riding along was Jorge Arboleda, editor of Overdrive’s Spanish-language sister publication, Transportista.

“We’re only taking one truck just in case the Teamsters burn one of them,” joked Fernando Paez, owner of Transportes Olympic, the previous afternoon. Paez received authority Sept. 6 from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration as the first Mexican carrier to participate in the program.

Four days after Gonzalez crossed the border, the U.S. Senate approved, 88-7, a transportation spending bill that contained another congressional attempt to halt the cross-border program, this time by denying it federal funds. The U.S. House had approved the same amendment in July. President Bush threatened to veto the bill once the two versions are reconciled in a conference committee.

“The administration strongly opposes any language imposing further restrictions on the cross-border trucking demonstration project,” the White House said Sept. 11.

FMCSA says every company, vehicle and driver participating in the program must first pass a rigorous safety audit and inspection. The agency says those checks are identical to, and in some cases more stringent than, those of their U.S. counterparts.

U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., criticized Bush’s program for beginning only an hour after the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General issued a report noting several concerns. “They didn’t even wait for the ink to dry, much less read the report or consider the questions it raised,” Dorgan said.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association petitioned the U.S. Department of Transportation on Sept. 7 for a halt to the program, pending review in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Teamsters President James P. Hoffa said his union would take its fight against the program to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary.

Meanwhile, the Mexican government approved Stagecoach Cartage and Distribution of El Paso, Texas, as the first U.S. trucking company allowed reciprocal operation throughout Mexico. Stagecoach made its first haul beyond the commercial zone Sept. 14, delivering plastic resin to Obregon, near Hermosillo.

On Sept. 19, FMCSA announced that IBC Inc., a San Diego-based carrier, and Transportes Rafa, a Mexicali, Baja-based carrier, had received authority to participate in the pilot program.

The American Trucking Associations filed a motion Sept. 6 asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to stay the effect of its decision voiding the 11-hour and 34-hour restart provisions of the hours-of-service rule.

A stay would leave the two provisions in place pending a review by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

The next day, Sept. 7, the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association filed a petition asking the same court to reconsider its opinion on the sleeper-berth and 14-hour-clock provisions.

The ATA says its motion was necessary because the FMCSA failed to respond to its request for an interim final rule that would have readopted the 11-hour and 34-hour provisions for a short interim. Without a stay request by some party to the case, the court’s decision could have become effective Sept. 7.

The mere act of filing a motion for stay serves as a short-term stay because under normal procedures, the appeals court will consider responses to the ATA’s motion during a period of approximately 14 days. So the 11-hour and 34-hour provisions were expected to remain in effect at least until late September, ATA says.

The appeals court ruled July 24 that provisions of the hours rule that allow 11 hours of driving before mandatory rest and a resetting of the cumulative duty-time limits after a 34-hour break were invalid because the FMCSA failed to give proper notice of changes in the methodology it used for analyzing crash risk.

In its Aug. 31 petition to FMCSA, ATA cited the potential for “widespread disruption in the industry and the supply chain.”

The ATA petition argued that the trucking industry cannot adapt to immediate changes in the daily driving limit and restart provisions without significant and costly impacts. ATA also argued that the inability of many states to adapt immediately to the new requirements will result in a patchwork of enforcement that could undermine the agency’s safety efforts.

It’s unlikely that a Democrat-controlled Congress will rescue the Bush administration by allowing the FMCSA to maintain the status quo, says Rick Schweitzer, general counsel to the National Private Truck Council. “Unlike 2004, Congress is unlikely to grant additional time by statute,” he says.

Whereas FMCSA claimed the additional risk in the 11th hour of driving was 30 percent greater, its data showed the risk actually more than doubled, Schweitzer says. “It appeared that the FMCSA improperly minimized the risk.”

The long-awaited Defense Transportation Coordination Initiative, potentially a $1.6 billion contract, has been awarded to Menlo Worldwide Government Services, a Con-way subsidiary.

The initiative is the Pentagon’s outsourcing of all transport management to the private sector, except for personal property and security-sensitive shipments of arms, ammunition and explosives, in a contract good through August 2014 if all options are exercised.

Menlo will provide “more efficient intermodal means of transportation and tailored scheduling to meet the customer requirements,” says Air Force Gen. Norton A. Schwartz, head of the U.S. Transportation Command.

Among the three principal subcontractors is Olgoonik Logistics of Anchorage, Alaska, which will support “the participation of minority-owned and small-business firms as service contractors,” Menlo says.

“There will be subcontracting opportunities for small trucking companies,” says Menlo/Con-way spokesman Gary Frantz. Owner-operators and fleets experienced in military hauling but without a current relationship with Menlo or Olgoonik should seek to establish that relationship as soon as possible.

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Georgia’s unique requirement that all drivers applying for or renewing a CDL must complete the one-hour Highway Watch training ends Jan. 1, thanks in part to lobbying by the Georgia Motor Truck Association.

The rule is no longer needed, as about 90 percent of the state’s 300,000 truckers will have been trained by 2008, says Ed Crowell, association president.

Meanwhile, the bill President Bush signed Aug. 3, implementing the recommendations of the Sept. 11 commission, requires the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general to examine Highway Watch’s books for fiscal years 2004 and 2005 and report to Congress in three months. Within a year, the inspector general must complete a second report that analyzes the effectiveness of federal security grants to the trucking industry.

“I think it’s a broad-based effort by Democrats to get a handle on Homeland Security,” says John Willard, American Trucking Associations spokesman for the Highway Watch program.

Begun as an ATA safety and security initiative in 1998, Highway Watch attained a new prominence in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks. Since fiscal year 2004, it has received $57.3 million in federal funds.

Kenworth announced at the Great American Trucking Show that it is the first truck manufacturer to sweep all three major categories in the annual J.D. Power and Associates Heavy Duty Truck Customer Satisfaction Study.

Kenworth achieved the highest ranking in customer satisfaction among Class 8 truck owners in the Over the Road, Pickup and Delivery, and Vocational segments.

This is the third consecutive year Kenworth received both the Over the Road and Pickup and Delivery awards and at least three of the four Heavy Duty awards bestowed annually. Kenworth now boasts 11 Heavy Duty awards, which is tops among truck manufacturers.

“Kenworth has an outstanding track record of delivering the highest levels of customer satisfaction in the industry in terms of performance, quality and cost of ownership,” said Bob Christensen, Kenworth general manager and PACCAR vice president.

The 2007 J.D. Power and Associates study is based on interviews with 2,677 primary maintainers of Class 8 trucks.

Kenworth also announced:

  • The Class 6 T270 and Class 7 T370 models are available with the Paccar PX-6 engine rated to 325 horsepower and 750 lb.-ft. of torque, and with the Paccar PX-8 engine rated to 330 horsepower and 1,000 lb.-ft. of torque.
  • Kenworth’s medium-duty product line will continue to include the K260 Class 6 and K360 Class 7 cabover models.
  • Its medium-duty conventional models will enter production in the fourth quarter.

    As UPS driver Bill Wagner drove south across the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis in the afternoon rush hour Aug. 1, “I kept thinking, I hope this damn thing doesn’t fall because I don’t want to be in that water,” recalls Wagner, 46, of Cottage Grove, Minn.

    Wagner waved to a buddy, Taystee Bakery truck driver Paul Eickstadt, and blew his horn at a school bus, to the children’s delight. Then the bridge crumbled.

    “Everything got blurry because I was shaking so bad,” Wagner says. “I saw the treetops through the window, and I thought I was going to die.”

    The first sense that returned was his hearing; he thought he heard rain. Then he smelled diesel and realized fuel was pouring into his cab. In pain and breathing with difficulty, Wagner managed to climb out the window of his overturned truck and look down on a deadly jumble of concrete, cars and people – all below him in the river. The school bus had come to a precarious stop just before the brink. The Taystee truck was ablaze, and Wagner knew his friend was dead. But having suffered broken ribs and a punctured lung, Wagner was in no shape to help others.

    Even today, “I can’t get the smell of the fire out of my nose,” Wagner says. “I don’t sleep very well. I wake up to the screaming.”

    Wagner speaks with passion about the lack of political response after the ollapse. “Thirteen people died on that bridge. I don’t recall anyone once apologizing and saying, ‘We messed up.'”

    Motor carriers will pay between $39 and $37,500, depending on fleet size, under a final fee schedule for the Unified Carrier Registration Plan and Agreement, published in the Aug. 24 Federal Register and effective immediately.

    The proposed schedule, which is the total amount to be paid by the company, is as follows:

    • Zero to two power units, as well as brokers and leasing companies – $39
    • Three to five power units – $116
    • Six to 20 power units – $231
    • 21 to 100 power units – $806
    • 101 to 1,000 power units – $3,840
    • More than 1,001 power units – $37,500

    The UCR replaces the Single State Registration System, as mandated by Congress in 2005.

    Thirty-eight states participated in the SSRS last year, and all but California and North Carolina will participate in the UCR this year. Oregon, which did not participate in the SSRS last year, will participate in the UCR.

    South Carolina will build its portion of Interstate 73 as a toll road, becoming the first state authorized to do so by a new federal program.

    I-73 is proposed to run from Myrtle Beach, S.C., to Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., and South Carolina’s portion alone is anticipated to cost $1.7 billion, according to the South Carolina I-73 Association, a nonprofit group.

    Each state – Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina, as well as Michigan and South Carolina – can elect to toll for new construction, says Nancy Singer, a Federal Highway Administration spokeswoman.

    The Interstate System Construction Toll Pilot Program was approved by Congress in 2005.

    “There have been numerous expressions of interest,” Singer says.

    U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters announced Aug. 14 that Miami, Minneapolis, New York City, San Francisco and Seattle will be the first cities to bene-fit from a new federal initiative to fight traffic gridlock.

    The announcement follows an eight-month nationwide competition to select a handful of metros from the 26 applicants to join the new Urban Partnership program, which emphasizes approaches such as congestion pricing, public transit, tolling and telecommuting.

    The most well publicized plan to get the DOT endorsement is New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposal – unpopular in the trucking industry – to levy an additional fee on every vehicle that enters Manhattan every day. Every winning community proposed some such form of congestion pricing, Peters said.

    Miami will receive $62.9 million; Minneapolis, $133.3 million; New York City, $354.5 million; San Francisco, $158.7 million; and the Seattle area (King County), $138.7 million.

    Paccar and Eaton announced at the Great American Trucking Show that they will jointly develop proprietary hybrid technology for heavy-duty commercial trucks in North America.

    The new products will be introduced in Paccar’s Kenworth and Peterbilt trucks. The target date for initial production is late 2009.

    Eaton Corp.’s heavy-duty hybrid electric system will be built using an automated manual transmission with a parallel-type “direct” hybrid system incorporating an electric motor/generator located between the output of an automated clutch and the input of a Fuller UltraShift transmission.

    The system will recover energy normally lost during braking and store it in batteries. When electric torque is blended with engine torque, this stored energy is used to improve vehicle performance, operate the engine in a more efficient range for a given speed or operate with electric power only.

    Kenworth has begun limited deliveries of its medium-duty hybrid-electric truck, which will go into full production next year.

    Peterbilt said it will begin full production of its medium-duty hybrid electric vehicles in 2008 and will offer heavy-duty hybrids for vocational and on-highway use in 2008 and 2010, respectively.

    The company delivered its first medium-duty hybrid vehicles – two Model 335s – in August to a San Marcos, Texas, building supplier.

    In addition to the Model 335 hybrid for stationary power takeoff applications, Peterbilt will offer the Model 330 hybrid for pickup and delivery applications in March 2008.

    The Paccar PX-6 engine rated at 240 horsepower and 560 lb.-ft. of torque powers the Class 6 Model 330 hybrid, developed in conjunction with Eaton. With the hybrid system engaged, horsepower increases to 300 and torque to 860 lb.-ft.

    Peterbilt’s Class 7 Model 335 also is powered by the Paccar PX-6 engine and regenerates lithium-ion batteries to electrically operate the PTO – ideal for municipal and utility applications where noise, emissions and fuel use are concerns.

    In the heavy-duty segment, Peterbilt is developing its hybrid Hydraulic Launch Assist technology on its low-cab-forward vocational Model 320 and expects to make a hybrid Model 320 available late next year. An on-highway hybrid aerodynamic Model 386 is expected to be available in 2010.

    The first versions have been developed in conjunction with Eaton and Wal-Mart Stores and have achieved a 5 to 7 percent savings over non-hybrid models in third-party testing, Peterbilt says.

    Federal officials filed a complaint Aug. 21 against a California mail hauler, charging violations that include incorrectly classifying owner-operator employees as independent contractors.

    The U.S. Department of Labor accuses Alan Berman Trucking of wrongly requiring drivers to use their own trucks and assume all costs.

    The department seeks $1.3 million in back wages for 80 current and former employees and seeks debarment of the company and its principals, which would prohibit them from receiving government contracts for three years.

    CRST Van Expedited has settled its litigation against Werner Enterprises concerning the latter’s hiring of drivers who had signed employment contracts with CRST.

    In 2004, CRST sued Werner in a Los Angeles federal court, alleging that Werner’s actions constituted intentional contract interference and violated California’s Unfair Competition Law.

    The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit delivered a key victory for CRST in March when it rejected Werner’s contention that CRST’s driver contracts merely created an “at-will” employment relationship.

    According to CRST, Werner has agreed to make inquiries of CRST to determine the contract status of CRST drivers and will no longer hire drivers under contract to CRST. The settlement is effective until Aug. 1, 2015.

    The Werner litigation was the second case to be resolved relating to CRST’s employment contracts, under which drivers receive training benefits in exchange for a commitment to stay with CRST for a specified period of time.

    In February 2006, a federal court in Oklahoma ruled against J.B. Hunt in similar litigation. CRST later reached a “mutually satisfactory settlement” with J.B. Hunt that did not change the Oklahoma federal court’s ruling.

    The adoption of climate-friendly trucks is limited only by biofuels, which are in short supply and uneven in quality, said Volvo’s CEO.

    “The technology exists, but we need the fuels,” Leif Johansson, CEO of the Volvo Group, told journalists and public policy experts in Brussels, Belgium, on Sept. 19.

    To prove Johansson’s point, Volvo rolled out seven heavy-duty Volvo trucks, each powered by a different renewable substitute for petroleum-based diesel fuel, such as biodiesel. The seven Volvo FM trucks are equipped with Volvo’s own 9-liter diesel engines that have been modified by company engineers.

    While the engines could be available immediately, the supply of biofuels is quite small, Johansson said, adding that far more money has been spent in North America than in Europe toward developing alternative fuels.
    – Avery Vise

    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s SmartWay Transport Partnership announced at the Great American Trucking Show the first 48 companies in its Grow & Go program, which requires a commitment to use renewable truck fuel such as biodiesel.

    Many are for-hire trucking companies ranging from one-truck owner-operators to Decker, Marten and J.B. Hunt.

    The agency also showcased a new fleet of SmartWay-certified tractors and trailers that could reduce fuel consumption by as much as 20 percent.

    Trucks using such equipment already save 350 million gallons of diesel fuel a year – and entirely through voluntary partnerships, said Bob Meyers, principal deputy administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. “We’re not always the agency issuing big thick rules that people have to comply with,” he said.

    Gov. Ted Kulongoski was joined by legislators, environmental and agricultural leaders at a biofuels facility in Eugene, Ore., to sign into law a mandate for the sale of renewable fuels, including biodiesel.

    The major components of House Bill 2210 include that all gasoline sold in the state must be blended with 10 percent ethanol after Oregon production of ethanol reaches 40 million gallons per year.

    All diesel fuel sold in the state must be blended with 2 percent biodiesel when the production of biodiesel from sources in the Pacific Northwest reaches a level of at least 5 million gallons per year.

    The biodiesel blending requirement increases to 5 percent when annual production reaches a level of at least 15 million gallons per year.

    Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty unveiled a schedule to boost the state’s mandated biodiesel blend from B2 to B20 in the next eight years. Pawlenty said he would bring this plan to the Legislature during the 2008 session.

    “Minnesota has led the nation in unleashing a renewable energy revolution,” Pawlenty says. “Other states are starting to catch on, and it’s time for us to continue to blaze the trail to a cleaner, more secure energy future. Increasing the level of biodiesel in diesel fuel means that more of our energy will come from farm fields rather than oil fields.”

    Biodiesel in Minnesota is made primarily from soybean oil. In Pawlenty’s plan, Minnesota would mandate a 5 percent blend in 2008, then 10 percent by 2011, 15 percent by 2013 and 20 percent by 2015.

    The governor asked his Biodiesel Task Force to develop the details, including quality control.

    Activists say they will try to get a federal judge to reconsider his decision to allow neutralized nerve agent waste to be trucked from Indiana to Texas.

    Chief Judge Larry McKinney of U.S. District Court in Indianapolis denied a motion for a preliminary injunction to halt tanker shipments of caustic wastewater produced by the breakdown of the deadly nerve agent VX. McKinney issued the written ruling Aug. 3, and shipments resumed Aug. 7.

    Plaintiffs, including the Chemical Weapons Working Group, argue that shipping this material is illegal and that disposal in Indiana would be safer than trucking it to Veolia Environmental Services in Port Arthur, Texas.

    The U.S. Army said it already safely made 1,425 shipments of the same material from Aberdeen, Md., to New Jersey for disposal for three and a half years.

    One of the most toxic substances known, VX was stockpiled by the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War, but the U.S. Army has not made any since the 1960s.

    In 1997, the United States signed a multilateral treaty that bans chemical weapons and requires their destruction within a specified period of time.

    An irrigation and farm equipment supplier and its subsidiaries have filed a class-action lawsuit in federal district court in Southern California. The lawsuit charges that the nation’s leading less-than-truckload carriers have conspired for at least four years to fix fuel surcharges on LTL shipments.

    Defendants in the litigation are Arkansas Best Corp., Averitt Express, Con-way, FedEx Corp., Jevic, Sun Capital Partners, New England Motor Freight, R+L Carriers, Saia, UPS and YRC Worldwide.

    Farm Water Technological Services, doing business as Water Tech, and its subsidiary CBJT, doing business as Agricultural Supply, contend that “beginning in 2003, defendants, facing drastically increased fuel costs and the likelihood of lower profits, have evaded this basic economic law by collusively imposing on their customers what are claimed to be ‘fuel surcharges,’ but which in fact bear little relation to the increase in their fuel costs.”

    In the suit, filed in late July, the plaintiffs charge that the carriers agreed to impose “identical or nearly identical” surcharges by linking them to diesel fuel prices published by the U.S. Department of Energy and by listing surcharges on their websites to communicate pricing.

    A NEW DRIVER TRAINING RULE, mandated by a 2005 court ruling, has been completed by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and is under review by the White House Office of Management and Budget. No details will be released until the White House OKs it.

    ELECTRONIC FILING of the federal heavy-vehicle-use tax is now possible for the 2008 tax year, though e-filing is not yet mandatory for those with fewer than 25 vehicles, the Internal Revenue Service says. For more information, call (222) 283-7819 or e-mail [email protected].

    A FIRE OR EXPLOSION in a commercial motor vehicle is considered an accident, and therefore must be recorded if it results in a death, a tow, or an injury requiring immediate medical attention away from the scene, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration announced.

    TRANSCRAFT plans to idle its Mount Sterling, Ky., platform trailer plant before the end of the year because of falling demand. The plant employs about 110 people.

    CORRECTION: Oklahoma has a state income tax. “Claim it all: The benefit of an HRA” in the September issue incorrectly stated otherwise.

    THE TRUCK TONNAGE INDEX increased 0.3 percent in July but was down 3.7 percent from a year earlier, thanks largely to the downturn in the housing market, the American Trucking Associations reported. Only a modest fall freight season is expected, says ATA Chief Economist Bob Costello.

    JOHN VANSCOY of New Haven, Mich., who drives for Top Flite Express of Detroit, was commended by the city of Roseville, Mich., for his heroism during rush-hour traffic May 9, when he blocked I-94 with his rig so that paramedics could reach the victims of an automobile accident.

    TRUCKERS WITH FRED,, is a new website designed to rally support for Fred Thompson’s 2008 Republican presidential campaign. “We are all truckers – drivers, owner-operators, mechanics, company owners and family,” says the website.

    LARGE TRUCKLOAD carriers – companies earning more than $30 million in annual revenue – experienced an average linehaul driver turnover rate of 127 percent during the first quarter of 2007, according to the American Trucking Associations. Small truckload carriers recorded a 102 percent turnover rate. At less-than-truckload carriers, turnover averaged 14 percent.

    ARKANSAS. Trucking companies needn’t pay a $5-per-vehicle tax bill the state mistakenly mailed. The Legislature eliminated that tax earlier this year to comply with the federal Unified Carrier Registration Plan.

    BRITISH COLUMBIA. As of Jan. 1, 2008, the Port of Vancouver no longer will allow container trucks older than model year 1989 onto the property. As of Jan. 1, 2009, the port also will be off limits to trucks older than 1994.

    CALIFORNIA. A new system at the Port of Oakland enables truckers to confirm pickup and delivery on GPS phones.

    FLORIDA. SunPass-only lanes are being converted to open-road tolling, meaning tolling at highway speeds, at four toll plazas on Florida’s Turnpike: Lantana in Palm Beach County, Cypress Creek in Broward County and Bird Road and Homestead in Miami-Dade.

    ILLINOIS. Work on the Curtis Road interchange with I-57 in Champaign will continue through November.

    INDIANA. PrePassPLUS is now operational on the Indiana Toll Road from Portage to the Illinois line.

    NEW YORK. A state Supreme Court justice refused to interfere with new weight restrictions on the Throgs Neck Bridge, which carries I-295 over the East River between the Bronx and Queens: no vehicles over 80,000 pounds without a special exemption for nighttime crossings at slow speeds. Trucking companies plan to appeal.

    TEXAS. North Texas Tollway Authority rate increases approved in November 2006 are now in effect. For example, a five-axle truck that paid $1.80 cash or $1.45 via TollTag on the Dallas North Tollway now pays $4 cash or $2.80 via TollTag – which will be the authority’s only payment option by May 2010. Visit for more information.

    VIRGINIA. The new Springfield interchange, where I-95 meets the Capital Beltway, is finished after eight years of work.